Project & Context
The DodecaTimer--a 12-sided interval timer that counts down (in minutes) the number on top--won AT&T's Best UI and Community Choice Awards at Hackster Hardware Weekend Portland. This was a 2-day, hackathon-style competition in which small teams form around pitched ideas, then rapidly develop a prototype.
This project gave me experience thinking through a non-screen-based user interface and allowed me to focus on elegant, tactile interaction design. Read on for my contributions to the project.
In the early stages, while my teammates were wrestling with accelerometers and microcontrollers, I was keeping us focused on the end user, making sure the tech decisions would contribute to a simple, delightful experience.
Understanding that our product might appeal to a wide range of users, I focused on a few different user types and use cases:
- Professionals alone in their office
- Facilitators/teachers with a group
- Children in home or classroom.
Requirements & Differentiation
With extremely limited design and build time, I gathered requirements based on a quick-and-dirty competitive analysis and best guesses about our use cases. My requirements listed below function as a guide for development and a working hypothesis on the best ways to compete with and differentiate our product from egg timers, smartphones, and The Miracle Cube Timer.
- Size: must fit comfortably in hand.
We made it the size of a navel orange. Big enough to fit the hardware, small enough for a child to hold.
- Simplicity: should do one thing well.
As always, we were tempted toward feature creep. Programmability, wifi / Bluetooth connectivity, and an LCD display were all tempting, but we stayed focused on making a minimum viable product and keeping things simple and elegant.
- Power: should be battery-powered and easily charged, preferably with no extra cords or hardware required.
One side of the dodecahedron will be a solar panel to recharge the internal battery, making the DodecaTimer a single, self-contained object.
- Material: must be durable, attractive, and pleasant to touch.
I 3D printed our prototype using translucent ABS plastic and sanded it smooth, but we will also experiment with other materials (see rendering above).
- Usability and Discoverability: must be easy to operate with little to no instruction.
The concept is already simple and the combination of size, tactile appeal, and durable/non-precious material encourage manipulation, experimentation, and discovery.
- Feedback: multiple users should be able to easily see, from a distance, how much time is left. Auditory cues should be reserved for the "time's-up" signal.
Shining diffusely through the translucent body, an RGB LED slowly changes color and/or brightness as the timer progresses. This makes it easy to gain a quick sense of timing without distracting the user with millisecond by millisecond precision. The user's activity is what's important, not the time. Finally, when the time is up, a pleasant but assertive noise indicates such, and the DodecaTimer flashes its final red.
- Visual Appeal: the object should be something people are proud to have in their space and want to show off.
Its unusual shape and pleasant color-changing glow make it unique among timers.
3D Design, 3D Printing
In addition to gathering requirements and keeping us focused on the user experience, I learned a lot about Fusion 360 to prepare the dodecahedron for rendering and 3D printing.*
Graphic Design and Storytelling
I also created a logo for our company, Hedron Timers, using Sketch. Finally, I helped present the human value of our product to the judges, in a non-technical way, telling stories from my own life.
There was a lot of interest in the DodecaTimer and development continues. From a UX standpoint, next steps will involve user research (observing people using their existing timers, interviewing them, researching most common/most desired intervals) and usability testing our prototypes. Stay tuned for news!